Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sow's ear purse ...

Folk lore is adamant about sow's ears and silk purses, and I suppose it has some merit. What the lore fails to mention is that sow's ears are perfectly suited for the purpose of allowing sows to hear things. It is trying to turn them into something else that causes all the trouble. Still, though I am far from expert in all things bovine porcine, my guess is one could make a perfectly serviceable pouch out of a sow's ears, perhaps even a attractive accessory that looks like fine leather.

I suspect that because much of a cruising life seems to be spent taking things that were intended for one purpose and pressing them into some other service. Money is always in short supply, so getting a work order written up to get it done just isn't an option. Besides, given our experience - and the constant horror stories we hear from other cruisers who have used marine contractors - I'm not even sure where I would start to look for someone to do this kind of project. For the same reason (money) just tossing out all the old, hacked up bits and starting from scratch with shiny new bits of silk is also not much of an option. But we do have time, and trouble is an every day companion. No sow's ear is safe in a mooring field or achorage full of curisers.

Today was day nine of turning Kintala's hap-hazard, limp, and ugly sow's ear of a bimini / frame into something that would support solar panels while still keeping the sun and rain at least tolerable. (I am beginning to wonder why any of us buy a boat that has an outside steering station only.) Nine ugly, stressful, gouged up hands and short tempered days of trouble.

Yesterday was the worst, a day at least as bad as the one back in Oriental when I discovered fuel barfing out of the WesterBeast's injection pump. Though the bimini frame was securely mounted to new hard points on the coaming, getting the frame, fabric, and ridged solar panel to play nice together was just not happening. I fell into the berth last night exhausted, battered, discouraged, and wondering if I simply didn't have the skills to make this sow's ear into anything more useful. Sleep was fitful, filled with weird dreams of long ago bosses and places of employment all mashed together in some surreal tale of things going wrong. But as often happens, the sub-conscious starts mulling over the problem as well. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I woke up with a new idea of measuring spans and aligning bows with strings and yardsticks, making sure it all stayed put under any reasonable load with rivets and a few braces.

Today was a tough day as well. It turned out the aligning was a really good idea... that should have been done first... not after a bunch of holes had been drilled in the stainless steal tubing. (Note to self – when one's tool room is lacking drill wax, a bar of soap will work well as a stand in.) Nor was the day helped any by the constant swell augmented by weekend power boater wake hits. Yet tonight ye 'ol Tartanic sports a bimini that is (mostly) straight and true, taunt, flat, and overlaid by solar panels incorporated as part of the frame. Not a silk purse, but a perfectly acceptable rig. It is mostly straight because I couldn't figure out a way around the funky bend in the aft-most bow, courtesy of some anonymous putz from the past. In the end Deb pulled off some Sail Rite magic to get us over that final hurdle, and it will take a good eye to spot the funk.

Of course I have yet to run a single wire or give much consideration to things like a permanent home for the control panel. So I suspect this job isn't even half done. I'm going to blame some of the slow progress on the short days. Assuming any reasonable morning routine, buy the time work commences there is barely eight hours of daylight left.

That, and working with sow's ears just takes a lot of effort.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hacking away

Kintala and her crew are back in full project mode. By the end of the day there is just enough energy left for a quick shower, dinner, and sometimes a movie. A $3 sale bin of CDs doubled our movie library. Since we haven't had a fast enough Net connection to download or stream anything since we returned to the US, having something new to nod off to is a treat. Movie nights have been taking place below since FL weather has dropped evening temps into the low 50s. Yes, cold weather lovers will groan at our tender skins, but we be tropical dwellers now.  Fifty is too cool for sitting outside taking in a flick. But it is perfect for being in full project mode.

It would be trying, hacking away on the boat while the cruising tribe sails in and out of the mooring field and form up mini-flotillas on the morning nets. Every weather window sees a bunch of boats heading out the channel to take aim at the Islands. Particularly since the opportunities for crossing the Stream have been rare these past few weeks. It would be trying, but the visit to family glows on the horizon. The promise of stories, hugs, and the smiles of little ones has added a gentle glow of anticipation to our days. The Islands will be there come January.

All of said hacking has been taking place in the cockpit. Kintala's bimini mount was always a cheesy kind of thing, with the mounting points far too weenie for the size of the cover. It was that way so it could be folded up, something that makes little sense on a cruising boat. One hardly ever sees the sun cover folded away. Chasing the sun is the whole idea, but sub-tropical rays will scorch one's hide clear to the bone.  Basking in such radiation is best done in small doses.  On those days were there is rain instead, folding up the rain cover would be just as silly. Big time, “here comes a hurricane” weather is best avoided. On the rare occurrence that the frame must come down, it will lift out of the solid mounts to be put away.

In addition the physical mounting of the weenie hinge fittings added a second layer of weenie to be undone, no surprise there. The core under 3 of the four mounts had been soaked because of poor sealing and flexing; the forward port mount sporting wood screws splintering their way through the fiberglass. So, as is normal for ex-airplane mechanics, the new mount holes were over sized, back filled with thickened resin, re-drilled, and through-bolted utilizing ½ inch starboard backing plates that were slightly larger, footprint wise, than the new mounts. (That is a bit of overkill, even for an ex-airplane type. But 0.5 inch is what the store had in stock.)

Kintala always seemed a bit awkward with its bimini sticking up four to six inches higher than the dodger. No only did it look like a bad after-thought, the cathedral ceiling cover reduced the amount of rain and sun protection. Not only is the bimini now lower but, with the mounts moved outboard as far as possible, if feels a bit more roomy on the back porch as well. Given the already minuscule acreage of that primary living space, even the illusion of more space is a good thing. And there actually is a little more hip room when going aft around the helm.

Most importantly, the hope is the new frame mounting will support a couple of solar panels that were donated to a good cause by friends Mizzy and Brian (Thanks again guys!) There is some question as to the solar panel install being completed before heading northwest to cold country, and movie nights might slow things up a bit more. But we didn't come this way to do nothing but work on the boat.

Though, sometimes, it sure feels that way.

Dinner Key Mooring field with the moon rise and South Beach in the background.


...if you're a planning cruiser, please practice NOT doing this at the dinghy dock. We have enough trouble keeping our dinghies inflated without having them cut by a prop.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


When we were land dwellers, a schedule ruled our lives. Because I had to be at work early Monday morning, any cleaning I had to do was done on the weekends. Cleaning, laundry, shopping, yard work, and considering that it's holiday season, I would have been doing the shopping and baking and decorating thing as well. All on weekends.

Now that we're not land dwellers, a schedule doesn't rule our lives, at least not very often. We still have the occasion that we're meeting someone or we have to provision the boat for a departure but, for the most part, the days sort of blend together. Laundry gets done when it needs to get done, same with shopping and water hauling and gasoline buying. Now cleaning? That's another thing altogether. Cleaning gets done whenever we get tired of looking at it. Since you're in such a small space, you get to look at it up close and personal. A lot. Even with it in your face all the time, sometimes it's hard to get motivated.

Today while Tim slaved away trying to make some progress on the strengthening of the bimini mounting so we can install the solar panels, I decided to make myself useful as well and tackled my list of small, routine jobs.

  • Cleaned out the sump box (I truly hate this job. It reeks.)
  • Cleaned out the sump pump filter (This may be worse.)
  • Cleaned out my pot and pan cupboard.
  • Put new seal on the fridge lids.
  • Defrosted the fridge.
  • Put away the bunch of supplies we just got in from Amazon (filters, water purifier, etc. etc.)
  • Started soaking our shop rags (we can't wash them in a machine anywhere since they're greasy).
  • Did a trash run.

Might not seem like much but in a small space all this took 8 hours. And on a Tuesday, no less.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Once a Drummer …

A long, long, long time ago I was a drummer; High School Band, Orchestra, Marching Band, a stint in a Drum and Baton parade group, and various garage bands of wanna-be rock-n-rollers. Back then the trap set of a drummer's dream was a Mother of Pearl single base Ludwig set with two mounted tom-toms, two floor toms, snare, and at least 3 Zildjian cymbals in addition to the Hi-hat. Mine was a no-name wood set that sometimes elicited rude comments from the occasional lead guitar player of other groups, at least one of which paid for his opinion with a split lip and a black eye. That particular confrontation led to a kind of free-for-all between the two groups. Not only were mine the better musicians, we were better in a brawl as well.

If I had known then what I know now, that set would have been disassembled, each drum wet sanded and refinished – inside and out - with at least 10 coats hand rubbed clear. Then each would have been fitted with the finest Aquarian head and tuned to perfection. Those natural wood shells would have thundered with a clean voice that needed no name. Alas, such insights were far beyond the teenaged me. Soon after the sky caught my attention and the world of chasing the perfect rhythm was traded for a lifetime of chasing clouds. Oh, there was always a pair of drumsticks in our home somewhere. In fact there is a pair on Kintala even now, along with a practice skin that sounds like someone is banging on a soup can. But it had been near 40 years since the last time I pounded out a riff with another person.

Until tonight.

It seems that Coconut Grove has a kind of underground drum circle that meets every full moon. (Really, full moon? Some kind of Esbat pagan rite in Coconut Grove maybe?) Such information came via Friend Katrina of s/v Happy Dance. I didn't actually know what a “drum circle” was, figuring that it was simply a group of people playing together. Ex-drummer that I am, I like listening to others play. It turns out that isn't what is meant by “drum circle”. There is a core group that does play together, but anyone wandering by can pick up one of the spare drums the group provides and join in. So what the hell? I picked up a spare drum and joined in.

It was as disorganized and seemingly hopeless an attempt at a group effort as it sounds … at first. I sat and tried to pick out a workable riff from the clash of noise, not sure how this was going to work out. Slowly, out of the din, floated the low rumble of a base line. The better players picked up on it and started fitting their own beats to match. Soon the novices got drawn in as well, following along and supporting the base notes of the self-assembling riff. Some of the better players started improvising, adding bits of breaking curls to the underlying waves of sound. It was basic, a bit crude, and magic, all at the same time. There was something primordial in it, a human rhythm as old as the first heartbeat. A flute joined in, adding a streak of high pitched light to the thunder. A dancer (clearly a regular with the group and certainly looking the part of a Pagan celebration) took to the center of the circle. The riffs would build, morph, then fall away with some kind of natural timing. A few minutes later a new one would start to grow, and the magic would work its way among us once again. This went on for nearly two hours. Never before have I experienced anything quite like it.

I don't know these people at all, will probably never see them again. There were a few middle aged white guys, women, minorities, a few dreadlocks, and a couple of kids. Yet, without practice or any kind of overt guidance, we found some common ground, some shared knowledge. Our efforts blended together and we filled the night with the sound of human joy. If one sent the music back 100,000 years in time, our ancestors would have known exactly what was going on and could have easily joined in the celebration.

We are all civilized now of course. Refined. As well as divided and angry and violent. It seems like we have lost the ability to find any common ground. Everyone is an enemy. Everyone is a threat. But it doesn't always have to be that way. A group of strangers, making music that was as basic and ancient as the full moon itself, defied that current state of affairs.

It is why we came this way, living lighter, simpler, closer to the natural rhythms of the world. The weather rules our life out here. Tides, waves and wind dictate what we do and how we do it. It is, in its own way, an ancient kind of living reflected in an equally ancient ritual. Deep inside we are all children of distant drummers offering human made thunder to dance with the full moon. It wouldn't hurt us to remember that more often.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A good day ...

The intention was to spend most of this month sailing around Biscayne Bay. Not to be too blunt, I need the practice. Even after 2000 nm Kintala still gives hints that she isn't always happy with the way she is being handled. But Sister Sky had different ideas about the things that might go on during November this year in southern Fl. So, instead of sailing, our old Tartan collected bottom barnacles in Middle River, Miami Stadium, and then in No Name Harbor. After weeks of constant F5 winds we finally left No Name this morning and got in a good day … in steady F5 winds. (In addition No Name has a 2 week limit per visit. Don't tell anyone but today was day 13 for us. I like No Name, but it was time to move on.)

It is about 5 miles from No Name to the Dinner Key mooring field. Kintala covered a bit more than 20 today. We were having so much fun out romping that we kind of went the long way around. We practiced different sail sets, hove to, and generally tried to get a little better at making the boat go. One thing we pretty much verified is that, often, we simply don't drive the boat hard enough. With the jib alone we were doing a solid 5+ in mid teens winds with gusts in the low 20s. Going south we found a bit more wind and decided to roll up the jib and fly the stay sail. Kintala did not approve. Speed fell to the high 3s as the boat wallowed around and generally misbehaved. The stay sail was rolled back in and about two-thirds of the jib went back out. The speed picked up to the mid to high 5s and flirted with 6. The boat danced happily through the waves. Lesson learned. When the winds blow, fly enough canvas to keep the speed well above 5, but not so much as to set the boat on its ear.

Somewhere in all of our tacking and jibing the jib leach line tore out and the sumbrella got a couple of rips in it. Not sure how that happened but, it must be admitted, Kintala's suit of sails is a bit weary. The only real party dress she has in her closet is the nearly new main sail. To keep from doing any more damage, the jib got benched and the stay sail went back in play. That is not enough horsepower on a broad reach unless the wind is flat howling. Force 5 is short of howling so we put up a double reefed main in an attempt to balance the boat with the small head sail. It worked pretty well. This was the first time we flew two reefs with a purpose and getting all the rigging squared away took the deck monkey a few tries. The top batten got caught in the lazy jacks and, being on a reach rather than close hauled, the leeward running back was in the way. (Tight on the wind - which is when we usually fly the stay sail - we normally leave both the running backs set as the boom never gets that far from the center of the boat.)

Adding to the fun, just when we were set to drop the main and enter the channel into the marina and on to the mooring field, a sneaky little storm slapped us with heavy rains and wind gusts into the 30s. Visibility went into the dumpster and, soaking wet in the cold wind, so did the crew body temperatures. It was a busy couple of uncomfortable minutes but the main fell cleanly into the lazy jacks, the stay sail went - not so cleanly - onto its furler, and the WesterBeast picked up the traces. Once in the mooring field Deb made a perfect pass at the ball but I missed the catch, forcing her to go around through the clutch of boats to give me another shot. This with more rain and the winds gusting into the 20s again. One of the reasons we get along so well is that she never makes much of my mistakes. I will do the same as soon as she makes one.

Photo courtesy of Leave Happier Photography
So we have joined the rest of the crowd getting bounced around in the mooring field this evening. Winds are still a solid F5 running to F6 when the storms pass nearby. There is still some deck work to do and the dink needs launched, but it will have to wait until morning. The constant work of the day has set my forearms on fire, though a cold Coke & Vodka is helping to damp the flames. (Kintala is suffering a lack of Rum at the moment … not sure how I let that happen.) Tomorrow we go into full project mode and in a couple of weeks we will make the trip to meet New Grand Daughter Edie and see family not hugged for more than a year.

Since Kintala will not move again until we stage for the Islands, it was good to get this day of sailing in; rain, wind, torn sail, and all.